Democrats have a new challenger in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District to take on Steve King: J.D. Scholten, a professional baseball player and paralegal from Sioux City. He’s returning to Iowa after playing professional baseball around the country and world, launching his campaign today against the controversial congressman. Kim Weaver withdrew from the race in early June after running against King in 2016 – Weaver endorsed Scholten upon his announcement. Spencer businesswoman Leann Jacobsen is also considering a run.
Scholten’s campaign will be a homecoming of sorts. A 5th generation Iowan, Scholten was born in Ames and his family moved from Nevada, Iowa to Sioux City when he was three. Scholten’s father was a baseball coach at Morningside College in Sioux City, which started the younger Scholten’s interest and career in the sport. His mother was a public health director. Early on his parents got him interested in political activism.
“Growing up, my parents dragged my sister and I around to all sorts of different cultural and political events,” Scholten told Starting Line. “I specifically remember my mother making me wear a ‘Bread Not Bombs’ t-shirt when we attended a protest in the 80s. My mother is a strong feminist who has worked a lot in prenatal care and as a Public Health Director. My father is quiet in general but has a huge heart for advocating for civil rights.”
One of his first major activism moments came in 2002 when Scholten got on a 20-hour bus ride to Washington, D.C. to protest the Iraq War.
After being a student-athlete at East High School in Sioux City and attending Morningside College and the University of Nebraska, Scholten entered into the professional baseball world. He didn’t make it to the majors, but he played four seasons for the Sioux City Explorers, and remains decently well-known in the 4th District’s largest city thanks to it. His career would also take him to Canada to play for the Saskatoon Legends, as well as to Europe for several teams there. During the off-season, Scholten started working as a paralegal, which included a case that helped a man from Cameroon who had been tortured by his government that was seeking political asylum in Minnesota.
But it was family concerns and his frustration with Steve King that has recently brought him back to Iowa.
“I’d always planned to come back to Iowa after my baseball career was over,” Scholten explained. “One of the last things my Grandma Fern said to me before she passed away in December was that I should move back to Iowa and take care of our family farm. During her funeral, at the rural church where she was an active member for most of her life, is when I felt Iowa pulling. Then, when my parents decided that they were going to sell my childhood home, that sealed the deal and I came home to buy it.”
As Scholten played around the world with teammates from many other states and countries, he got particularly frustrated with the bad reputation Iowa was getting due to his district’s congressman.
“I am a pretty calm guy but there are two things that get me riled up: one, embarrassing Iowa, or two, disrespecting Iowa,” he said. “Let’s just say that when the majority of my friends who aren’t from Iowa and don’t follow politics that closely know who the Iowa 4th Congressional District Representative is, something is wrong. As for number two, I still have bitter feelings towards the Stanford Band (from the 2016 Rose Bowl).”
As Democrats try to figure out how to finally knock off King, who has consistently won by mostly large margins in the deep-red Northwest Iowa district, Scholten hopes his personal background and professional experience in a field outside of politics can help him connect with voters.
“Sports, especially baseball, is a bridge,” he said. “It gives me something in common with different generations and people of different backgrounds … We’re all supposed to be on the same team – the United States of America – and our team isn’t what it used to be. But I am an optimist and I believe that we Democrats are at our best when we advance the civic values that our country was founded on: civil rights, equality, and opportunity. At the very least, maybe someone who won’t vote for me can still have a constructive conversation with me.”
While he has some recognition in Sioux City from his baseball days, he’s also got personal stories that can connect him with many communities throughout the 4th District.
“I am a product of this entire district,” he noted. “My dad is from Larchwood, my mother is from a farm outside of Lake Mills. They met in Mason City when they were high school teachers. They moved to Nevada and I was born in Mary Greeley hospital in Ames while my dad was a Volunteer Assistant Baseball coach at Iowa State. We moved to Sioux City when he got the head coaching job at Morningside College. If you look at the map of the 4th District, I have roots throughout the district. Additionally, through baseball or basketball, I’ve had teammates from virtually this entire district.”
Despite Democrats’ losing margins in past elections, Scholten is optimistic about his chances going into 2018. For one, he plans on significantly outworking King, joking that, “A testament to my work ethic is how long I played baseball on minimal talent.” King has always conducted little fundraising for his reelection campaigns and doesn’t campaign throughout the district anywhere near as much as fellow Iowa Republicans David Young and Rod Blum do.
But he also sees how his campaign could be part of a youth movement he’s noticing within Iowa Democratic politics. And he wants to translate that enthusiasm into conversations throughout the district that highlight how out of touch King has become with his own constituency.
“With youth comes energy, and I plan to excite the frustrated and the folks who are fed up with a representative that talks more about European issues or the Texas border, both of which are thousands of miles away, than he does about the needs of my beloved home district,” Scholten said.
The Democratic primary for the 4th District will be on June 5th. Scholten’s new website is here.
by Pat Rynard